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Philippine Food Fest

By: "Dinner Gong"

Date Posted: 2000-04-08

If you're looking for a home from home with fine food from the Philippines and a good range of drinks, then you might try dropping into the Fiesta Cafe in Park Avenue. This second floor place serves a wide variety of customers. Lonely G.I.s, housewives in need of some afternoon company, would-be singers, people who like quiet cocktails, foodies and party revellers. This disparate bunch all, amazingly, seem to be well catered for at this place.

Fiesta Cafe opens at 1pm and its first wave of customers tend to be those aforementioned housewives. They usually like lunching with friends and perhaps a turn on the karaoke machine, the only free one on the island, as far as Dinner Gong knows. These ladies tend to disappear home in time for their husbands' return from work. Then a different crowd starts to drift in. Fiesta Cafe has a bar and some of its early evening customers drop in for a drink or a snack. Fiesta management has run two places before. One was the Fiesta Filipino and before that they had a club. The new place is the first to combine a bar with a restaurant and there is something of a club atmosphere too.

There is a comprehensive cocktail list, including the Hurricane, containing four or five different types of alcohol, the vodka based Kamikaze and Bubble Gum, also containing vodka. There is Black and White Russian, Kahlua Milk, Margarita, Pina Colada and some other exotically named mixtures. These include Blind Melon, Blue Hawaaian and Killer Kool Aid. The subtly named Sex On the Beach, a gin and juice combination, is apparently often requested, though customers' girlfriends are usually cajoled into asking for it, unless inhibitions have already been loosened by some of those other cocktails. Most of these drinks are Y6OO, though Long Island Tea, Tequila Sunrise and Zombie are 7OO. The beer list is pretty standard: Heineken, Miller Lite, Budweiser and Orion Draft, though with one delicious exception, San Miguel Pale Pilsen, the pride of Philippine brewing and surely a world class ale.

Filipino food is similar to Okinawan in that it takes a long time to prepare. (The karaoke machine and long drinks list are intended as diversions while it is cooking.) Filipinos use chicken as a standard ingredient, rather than the Okinawan reliance on pork. DG hadn't tried Philippine food before and was genuinely surprised by its inventive blending of tastes.

First on the menu was Adobo, chicken boiled with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and onions, very popular with Americans. Next came Caldereta, a spicy beef stew with carrots and peppers. Lumpia are small crispy spring rolls. DG thought they were all right, but transformed by the red dip that came with them. Fiesta Cafe management wouldn't divulge its exact recipe, only admitting it contained pineapple juice, sugar and wine. It was delicious and unlike anything DG has encountered on his gastronomic Far Eastern wanderings.

Pancit was a filling mixture of dry noodles, onion, beans carrots and small pieces of sausage with a twist of lemon.

Standard Western fare is on the menu at Cafe Fiesta, such as Fish and Chips, Chicken Nuggets, BBQ, Cheese Fry, Potato Fry and Pizza. They cost between Y400 and Y800 a dish.

If, however, you would like to try something more adventurous, then this place gives you good cooking at reasonable prices. There is Kare Kare, oxtail sauteed in peanut butter. Palabok is seafood noodles, clam chilli and pork skin. Prices are between Y700 and Y1000.

The management told DG some dishes might sound rather gruesome to Westerners. Dried pork blood is one, dark brown and the consistency of a caramel pudding but tastes good apparently.

Another is Sisig or pork mask, tiny shreds of spicy pigs' ears, liver and onion. Also a taste treat said the management.

Cafe Fiesta is starting an all-you-can eat buffet on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 3pm. It costs Y100O and includes 5 different dishes and dessert.

Another difference between this warm and friendly Filipino place and other establishments on the island is that it takes Visa and Mastercard. Well worth a visit.

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